In the late 19th century, "tightlacing" among women was in vogue. Émilie Marie Bouchaud or "Polaire" was famous for her tiny, corseted waist, which was reported to have a circumference no greater than 16 inches and at one time measured 14.
The algerian-born singer and actress's striking appearance, both on and off stage, contributed to her celebrity. For her 1910 supposed "debut" in New York she provocatively allowed herself to be billed in the advance publicity as "the ugliest woman in the world" and departing on a transatlantic liner she was apparently accompanied by a "black slave"returning to America in 1913, she brought a diamond-collared pet pig, Mimi, and wore a diamond nose ring. Talk of her figure and her lavish overdressing in fur coats and dazzling jewels preceded her appearances wherever she went.
French poet Jean Lorrain said of her:
"The tiny slip of a woman that you know, with the waist slender to the point of pain, of screaming out loud, of breaking in two, in a spasmically tight bodice, the prettiest slimness ...What a devilish mimic, what a coffee-mill and what a belly-dancer! Yellow skirt tucked high, gloved in open-work stockings, Polaire skips, flutters, wriggles, arches from the hips, the back, the belly, mimes every kind of shock, twists, coils, rears, twirls...trembling like a stuck wasp, miaows, faints to what music and what words! The house, frozen with stupor, forgets to applaud."
The old tradition of corset-training is alive and well today, although is seen more of an oddity nowadays as opposed to a fashion or extreme version of the norm.
Currently the smallest waist belongs to Cathie Jung (USA, b. 1937), who stands at 1.72 m (5 ft 8 in) and has a corseted waist measuring 38.1 cm (15 in).